Spirit and community leading to Sangha

The links between Social Dreaming and spirit emerged early in the history of Social Dreaming in Australia through the incorporation of Social Dreaming in the “Authority for Faith” Conferences from 1994. These Conferences were designed specifically for members of the Roman Catholic Church, both lay and religious. The Dreaming fitted with a meditative tradition in the Church and enabled the exploration of the links between the personal and the institutional.

A Social Dreaming Conference sponsored by AISA was held in the Kimberley’s W.A. in 1996. The Conference started in Broome then traveled to Cape Leveque for a couple of days and then back to Broome. The Conference was directed by Suzanne Ross and one of the designated huts was the “Spiritual Hut”. Suzanne Ross published an article in 2003 on her experiences of Social Dreaming with the title 'The science, spirit, chaos and order of social dreaming'.

The interest in exploring spirit and its link with Social Dreaming further developed with the “Authority for Spirituality” Conference 19th – 24th September 1999. sponsored by AISA. The sub title of the Conference: ‘An experiential working conference for those of all faith or no faith, who wish to develop spirituality within themselves, and the systems of which they are part’. The Primary Task1 was: ’To explore our authority for spirituality as this emerges within the conference’ 2.

In 2002 Joshua Bain and I published a paper A Note on Primary Spirit' (Bain and Bain, 2002). In this paper we explored the nature of Primary Spirit and its relationship with Primary Task3. We defined Primary Spirit as “that which breathes life into an organisation: the animating principle”. We linked Primary Spirit to Bion’s notion of ‘O’, Ultimate Reality, and to Schopenhauer’s “will to live”4, which Bion referred to in a Tavistock Seminar in 1978: 

(Schopenhauer) ‘seemed to feel that the central point was a drive, a sort of central energy, a kind of urge to exist.’ Bion says, ‘I think that this is fundamental, it is a fundamental quality, and one can from time to time see it expressed by the patient as being aware of that pressure. It takes various forms of course - it pursues various channels - but ... the basic thing, the undifferentiated thing, is the impulse to exist.’ (Transcribed from video).  

We wrote “part of the nature of primary spirit is that it remains unsaturated, i.e., there is a space to contain that which is not so far contained. The potentiality for something new to be brought into being must always be present. When the primary task of a group, or an organisation, becomes saturated primary spirit can be said to be missing or disconnected from primary task. The potentiality to bring something new into being is not possible, and there is simply an activity, which people so engaged are likely to think of, after a while, as meaningless” (Bain and Bain, 2002, p.100).

Part of the beauty of dreams is that they too remain unsaturated with meaning, and available for the creation of meaning. Whatever dream theories are advanced that attempt to saturate the meaning of dreams the dreams remain impervious. The theories are only ever partially successful.

The ideas in the Primary Spirit paper were taken into the design of the 2002 International Conference, “Exploring Being in Global Systems”, 25th - 29th June, which was sponsored by AISA and took place at Erskine House, Lorne, Victoria. This was the fifth International Conference.

The Primary Task5 was: ‘To explore the emergence of primary spirit in primary task’.6

Social Dreaming Conferences were held in Mallacoota, Victoria, at Karbethong Lodge, overlooking the lake, and with a view to Gabo Island Lighthouse in 2002, 2003 and 2004. The 2002 and 2003 Conferences were sponsored by AISA and the 2004 Conference by the Centre for Socio-Analysis.  The Conferences explored the development of community through social dreaming. The Consultants at various times included Christopher Falkingham, Julia Hailes, Joshua Bain, Peter Hetrelezis, Jill Webb, and the author.

The themes of managing oneself in multiple roles, and community development, continued to be explored in the CSA sponsored Point Lonsdale Conference7 in 2005 at the Point Lonsdale Guest House. The Conference title was “Dreaming Across Transitions: From Fear to Creativity”, and the primary task was: “To explore transitions through Social Dreaming, and develop capacities for managing transitions effectively, and creatively”.

In 2005 Chindu, a Dalit cultural organisation in Andhra Pradesh, asked the author to direct a “Gender and Authority” experiential Workshop. The Workshop was jointly sponsored by CSA and Chindu and was supported by a grant from the Australia India Council at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It took place in Hyderabad 13 – 16 August and included Social Dreaming, Study Groups, Work Role Drawings, Role Consultations, Explorations of family of origin and School experiences, and Seminars on “Authority and its Origins”. The Staff included Rosemary Viswanath, Gouranga Chattopadhyay, Rina Tagore and the author.

During a Seminar at this Workshop I explored the double threads of authority. The first thread I suggested is based in anxiety, or controlling anxiety; it has an individual focus and leads to hierarchy. The second I suggested is based in wonder; it has a community focus, and leads to the truth and authority of the Sangha, people on the path. In the Buddhist conception of Buddha or Truth: Buddha may be manifested in three ways, or there are three aspects of the same thing, the Three Jewels: 

  1. There is the aspect of the Buddha as a person – most recently – Gautama.
  2. There is the aspect of Buddha as Dharma – truth, as evidenced in the texts of Buddhism.
  3. There is the aspect of the Buddha as Sangha, the community of people on the path.


Social Dreaming through the generation of authority for meaning leads to Sangha.

The immediate origins of the “Heart of Dreaming” Conference at Soapy Bore in September 2009 date back to January 2007 when a small group met to explore the possibility of dreaming in central Australia particularly at Uluru and in Utopia - (which is where Soapy Bore is located). The group consisted of Kam Saraswati, Joshua Bain, Christopher Falkingham, Peter Hetrelezis and Alastair Bain.  Kam Saraswati works as a GP with the Urupuntja Health Service in Utopia. At the time we saw the task as being “To explore the heart and spirit of Australia through social dreaming”. The group met nine times between January and May 2007, but it did not eventuate in the exploration that was envisaged.

However it did pave the way for taking up a suggestion of David Patman’s at the end of the Dream Sharing Program in September 2008 that we “do Social Dreaming in somebody’s workplace”.  Kam Saraswati’s workplace in Utopia was suggested, and that became our goal in the group’s planning for the Conference over the next year.

As I have been writing this chapter I realized that the major themes or directions in Social and Organisational Dreaming in Australia that have been identified - authority for task, management of self in multiple roles, flattening of hierarchy,  spirit, community - came together at the “Heart of Dreaming” Conference through  Sangha - the truth generated by people on the same path. This led  to the exploration of the heart of dreaming as not so much a “finding out” as an expression of “being”, which is what this book is about.


1 The Conference Events wereCommunity Event, Small Study Group, Praxis, Social Dreaming, Plenaries, Mutual Consultation Sets, Shamanic Journey,  Meditation, Prayer and Yoga.

2 The Consultants were Eve Steel, Bryan Gray, Gouranga Chattopadhyay, Suzanne Ross and the author.

3 From the time of its formulation in 1958 by Ken Rice, and in the 1960s by Eric Miller and Ken Rice the concept of primary task has been of central significance in socio-analytic thinking, consultancy, and action research. Miller and Rice write: ‘We postulate that at any given time an enterprise has a primary task - the task that it must perform if it is to survive.’ (Miller and Rice, 1967, p.25). Primary task is the essential aspect of what an organisation does, and needs to keep doing if it is going to continue to exist in its current form.

4 In Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung [The World as Will and Representation] as well as in his Parerga and Paralipomena. In Volume One of the latter, see ‘Transcendent Speculation on the Apparent Deliberateness in the Fate of the Individual’ - this essay provides a brief, but useful illustration of the concept, and the quite radical parameters Schopenhauer accorded it in terms of its sphere of influence. He writes there (p. 214): ‘In those deep, blind, primary forces of nature, from whose interplay the planetary system results, the will-to-live that subsequently appears in the most perfect phenomena of the world is already the inner operating and guiding principle.’

5 The Events were: Plenaries, Social Dreaming Matrix, Global Event, Praxis / Thinking Post - The primary task was to explore connections between primary spirit and primary task for the global group relations community; Bion Cup  - The primary task was to win at croquet!

6 The Conference Directorate was: David Armstrong (U.K.), Alastair Bain  (Australia, Co – Director), Gouranga Chattopadhyay (India), Veronica Gruenisen (Germany), Sally Trembath Hastings (Australia, Administrator), Gordon Lawrence (U.K.), Allan Shafer (Australia), Kathleen White (U.S.  Co – Director).

7 A participant in this Conference, Dr. Karmananda Saraswati, wrote about this Conference:

“I participated in the recent Conference: “From Fear To Creativity" at Point Lonsdale. This was one of the most remarkable gatherings I have attended, whether in the context of a work-related professional gathering, or a spiritually directed meditation/teaching retreat. The whole practice and process of the social dreaming matrix is a profound and refreshing experience. The recognition of the possibility of passing through the inevitable transitions occurring in life stages, work and personal circumstances in a creative and responsive way, accessed via the unconscious through the dreams and associations within the social matrix, was totally new to me. The sense of support at the deepest level encompassed in the matrix is such a boon. I hope it will become the experience of many individuals who may find themselves struggling to respond creatively within our society and its groups and organizations where dreaming together as a process is yet to be recognized as ­meaningful and valuable in the realization of collective goals and objectives. I feel proud to have become a "dreamer" with a dear group of colleagues in the social dreaming matrix. I wish to thank Alastair Bain and his small group of facilitators for arranging and facilitating this wonderful conference and commend their work to all concerned.”


Bain A. and Bain, J. 'A Note on Primary Spirit' in Socio-Analysis, Vol. 4, December 2002, pp. 98 – 111.

Miller, E. and Rice, A.K. 

Ross, S. 'The science, spirit, chaos and order of social dreaming' in Experiences in Social Dreaming  Ed. Lawrence, W.G. Karnac, London, 2003.pp.72 -89.